Pressure on teachers to 'rig exam scores'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 May, 2012, 12:00am


Teachers at the city's biggest vocational training network are under pressure to rig exam scores and give test tips to boost overall pass rates, according to an education union.

But the network's management insisted yesterday that the organisation had never told teachers to ensure a certain proportion of students passed.

Professional Teachers' Union president Fung Wai-wah said that although he had only a handful of complaints from Vocational Training Council teachers about exam rigging, he was worried it was part of a growing trend of linking teachers' job performance to their students' grades.

Fung said teachers might be afraid to speak out for fear of losing their job. 'There are no winners in changing grades - the school, teachers and students all have their dignity compromised,' he said

Alice Mak Yin-fung, who teaches a higher diploma course in business management at the VTC's Institute of Vocational Education in Kwun Tong, said test scores in one of her classes were bumped up earlier this year.

Mak has taught at the institute for six years, employed on a one-year contract under constant renewal.

She said another teacher in the same faculty marked her students' exams again in January, and raised the scores of 11 students who had originally failed, giving them a pass.

The revised passes were roughly a third of the total number of students who failed. Some scores were almost doubled to cross the pass threshold - generally set at 40 per cent. The pass rate for the class was subsequently revised up from 60 to 75 per cent.

'This is suspicious because there is no way those students could have passed if the marking scheme was followed tightly,' Mak said.

She reported the incident to management and an investigating committee determined in April that the score changes were reasonable.

'Ultimately, the students lose out when teachers give grades that do not reflect achievement,' Mak said. 'It's disrespectful to the students, especially to those who worked hard to earn top scores. And students who did not deserve to pass would have no idea they are underperforming.

'My students know about this controversy right now, and they want grades that they deserve. And they ask me if I'm worried that I'll lose my job if I speak out. I told them I'm not a real teacher unless I do so.'

Albert Li Sau-sang, president of the VTC Academic Staff Association, said exam rigging was a problem and funding was at the heart of it.

'The problem is that our institutions are not funded by the government, and so they are run like a business,' Li said. 'We want to attract students by having a pass rate that is neither too low nor too high.

'Many of the teachers are on short-term contracts and are therefore easily abused. They can be terminated without the school giving any explanation.'

VTC senior assistant executive director Leung Yam-shing said management had never instructed teachers to meet a certain pass rate, and staff teaching performance was not tied to their students' grades.

But Leung did not rule out that 'there may be staff who have not grasped or executed the marking scheme fully', saying he would follow up on these cases. But he did not comment on Mak's case, citing privacy grounds.

He said scores were always rounded up to a full number; a score of 39.6, for example, would be rounded up to 40. Leung said this process was computerised to ensure fairness.

'A score of 39 or 38 will never, ever, be rounded up to 40,' he said.

Leung said a strict monitoring system alerted the administration to anomalies in grades, such as scores being too high or too low, or clustered on a similar score. In those cases, the work would be graded again and then submitted to the council's examination committee for review.

The VTC group has 13 member institutions teaching 190,000 students a year.